For most of us, proving who we are is as simple as pulling out a passport, driving licence or birth certificate.
If we lose a document, we trust that the government holding our information has centralised systems, and can produce another copy, whilst still being secure enough to protect against unlawful access by others.
This trust in our central systems is commonplace in New Zealand, however, for more than 1 billion people around the world – 40% of whom are children - it is an unimaginable luxury.
For some living in war torn countries, facing persecution or who have been made refugees due to a natural disaster, the only documents they owned could have been lost or destroyed in the turmoil.
Without the ability to prove their identity, these people are unable to access fundamental support systems, including healthcare and education. They can't open a bank account, rent a property, legally get a job, or access social welfare – all of which puts them at higher risk of corruption, crime, trafficking and slavery.
In a world where our smartphones use facial recognition to identify us, our sole reliance on the low tech paperwork methods used to store and prove our identity seems stuck in the dark ages.
Banks, credit card companies and websites currently store our personal in one place, making it susceptible to hacking where our identities may be stolen and used to commit fraud.
Personal data storage may be about to get an upgrade though thanks to a technology called the blockchain and its decentralised ledgers which could transform how our information is stored.
A bit like a virtual notebook, the blockchain provides a place where information cannot be seized, modified or censored by any person, organisation or government. The data is not kept in just one place, but instead verified by computers all over the world which keeps the information secure and almost impossible to hack.
Although it may sound futuristic, blockchain backed digital identities have been the norm for years in Estonia, where secure, authenticated identity is a birth right.
Before a new-born baby arrives home, Estonian hospitals will have already issued the child a digital birth certificate and their health insurance will have been started automatically. At the age of 15 they are given an electronic ID card which can be used for health care, banking, shopping and voting, increasing efficiency and reducing the number of cards each person needs.
Estonia was way ahead of its time, but the world's most vulnerable people are still in need of a solution. Using a tool called ID2020, the UN has prioritised a digital identity project for these people that maps biometric data such as fingerprints, iris scans and DNA analysis on the blockchain to create a permanent identity for refugees and displaced people that cannot be tampered with by governments or lost in war-torn regions.
With a digital identity, these people can instantly qualify for aid and provide their health, education and identification data when arriving at border crossings. The system could also create smart contracts to provide migrant workers with safer working conditions and reunite lost family members after a disaster.
So where does New Zealand fit in all of this? As a small country proud of our early technology adopter status, we have the potential to develop, test and innovate more quickly than many in this new field.
The big question is whether our government is willing to adopt blockchain-friendly regulations which could help coordinate our personal data including medical and educational records and put us at the forefront of secure digital identity.